Editor's Note — April 10, 2014, 3:28 pm

Introducing the May 2014 Issue

The life-coach industry, quinoa quarreling, and the comedy of Doug Stanhope

Harper's Magazine (May 2014)At one time or another, we’ve all felt unsure of our futures. We worry about our personal relationships, of course, but also about our careers. Who among us hasn’t felt insecure about getting a job, keeping a job, advancing in it? To answer these questions, an increasing number of people have turned to life coaching — and have wondered whether it wasn’t time to ditch more traditional forms of therapy. In the May 2014’s cover story, “50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong,” Genevieve Smith, who last wrote on the self-help movement in the June 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, immerses herself in what has become a thriving industry. Joining a class of aspiring coaches — i.e., dissatisfied people who are being taught how to advise other dissatisfied people — she ponders the fine line between self-help and hucksterism. Yes, Smith would insist: there is a difference.

Since everyone seems to love quinoa these days, we have included a report on this miracle crop by Lisa M. Hamilton. Though often the butt of jokes (most memorably, a beer commercial comparing a quinoa cake to a loofah sponge), this grain is amazingly resilient, flourishing even in freezing, arid, and salt-saturated soil, and could go a long way toward feeding the world’s hungry. The largest quinoa seed bank, however, is owned by the Bolivian government, and the country is reluctant to share it. In “The Quinoa Quarrel: Who Owns the World’s Greatest Superfood?” Hamilton travels to the Andes, where she talks to Bolivian geneticists and growers, and to Provo, Utah, where a pair of Mormon agronomists dream of growing hybrid quinoa on an industrial scale — and perhaps even patenting it.

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, the much admired author of Random Family, writes about the impressively foul-mouthed comedian and provocateur Doug Stanhope. Although he has had a loyal fan base for the past twenty years, Stanhope has become better known recently thanks to the effusive praise of comics like Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Ricky Gervais. LeBlanc catches up with Stanhop’s Big Stink Tour in Tampa, Florida, and travels with his crew throughout the South, producing a portrait of a fiercely independent, extremely creative, booze-infused personality.

Alice Gregory reports on the phenomenon of the “found money” TV show — a new, very popular genre in which people bid on the contents of houses, luggage, trunks, and all kinds of boxes without knowing what’s inside. The winning bidders, of course, are hoping they may have purchased valuable jewelry, rare coins, or antique pottery. Just as often, though, they get exactly what they paid for: zilch. In Gregory’s view, these shows are purely cynical, a producer’s wink at the current recession and the financial industry that created it.

Also in this issue: photographs from the Sochi Olympics by Benjamin Lowy; Michael Robbins on the links between poetry and metal; a short story by Antonya NelsonLaura Miller on our enduring fascination with Sherlock Holmes; Daniel Smith on Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History; and Maria Bustillos reporting from Texas on the human suffering caused by state governors who refuse to accept federal Medicaid money under the Affordable Care Act.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley

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